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Decision to hire Joe Kernan paid off for International Rules series

By Declan Bogue

Published 25/11/2015

Prize guy: Joe Kernan guided Ulster to the inter-pro crown but the series needs promoted
Prize guy: Joe Kernan guided Ulster to the inter-pro crown but the series needs promoted

Let's suspend reality and take the marketing of the International Rules series into another dimension; specifically, that of the boardroom of 'The Apprentice'.

Two opposing teams sit across the table from Lord Sugar as he outlines the task. Two sports, with vastly different rules. They even use a different shape of ball. Somehow, they come together.

However, this experiment has run into problems in the past; namely, gruesome violence. And two years ago, one of the sporting bodies more or less wrote the series off by sending an ill-equipped group of indigenous players who lost by an aggregate of 101 points.

By this stage, Lord Sugar's aide Karren Brady would have raised her eyebrow. Right-hand man Claude Littner might even have made some sort of facial expression.

It's a hard sell. A salesman was required. Enter Joe Kernan.

The Crossmaglen man has now entered a statesman-like period. At 61 years of age, he doesn't need to go through the mincer of inter-county management anymore and has been free to take up a number of honorary managerial posts available to a man of his standing in the game.

He accepted the Ulster job when it was offered and landed inter-provincial titles. Now he has brought the Cormac McAnallen Cup back and has a trip to Australia to look forward to next year.

Last Friday, the Australian Rules representatives, led by their press officer Patrick Keane, insisted on their interviews taking the form of a top-table question and answer session.

Keane might as well have sauntered up to the Gaelic games correspondents, flamboyantly broken wind while invading personal space, flashed a smile and walked away whistling 'Waltzing Matilda'.

'Q & As' are asinine affairs, designed to crush independent thought by players and management and create an invisible barrier between protagonists and journalists with a physical blockade of a desk decorated by spring water.

The day was saved when Kernan (pictured with Jack McCaffrey) came back to conduct a further GAA-type of interview when everyone huddles tightly around their prey, dictaphones held at arm's length. He sold the series.

His warmth and his ability to actually look inquisitors in the eye when answering questions has always been widely appreciated.

He left journalists purring and boosted by a grown-up, entertaining conversation.

He said: "This game has been going for 30 years; this is going to be the toughest Test ever… It's going to be the toughest man-to-man, end-to-end game."

Back at the birth of the series, the President of the then-called NFL, Dr Allen Aylett, said in 1984: "In this game we have a space-age spectacular if we continue to work on it, a game twice as fast as any other form of football in the world."

Just two years later, the Australian manager John Todd called the Irish "wimps".

He added: "They'd make great soccer players, but wouldn't have a hope of making the grade in Australian Rules.

"They're not tough enough to handle a real game."

What transpired on Saturday night was a mildly entertaining game of a diluted sport. The marking and the physical exchanges were set at no more than challenge match levels, and the closeness of the scoring covered a multitude of fault lines.

We have the Railway Cup appearing on the horizon. Pete McGrath is taking over from Kernan as Ulster manager.

In Ulster, we like to place plenty of store in the competition, but it must be of some discomfort to current GAA President, Cavan man Aogan O'Fearghail, that it is being ran off as a two-day blitz.

McGrath can certainly sell the series, but the lack of promotion on a national and provincial scale so far stands in stark contrast to the treatment the hybrid game was afforded.

Belfast Telegraph

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